Imran Khan, what next?

May 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

I just spoke on Radio about the elections in Pakistan (if you are interested you should soon be able to find it here soon). One thing I forgot to say so I’m expanding on it here.

Imran Khan actually did pretty well. For a party that has only ever won one seat in its history before and didn’t even compete last time round to get to 30+ odd seats in a first past the post system is pretty impressive. No one sane really expected them to do much btter. To be the official opposition and in power in one of the four provinces is actually better than they had any right to expect. The problem is however that having told everyone that the PTIsunami was going to sweep all before them, how do they now deal with the disappointment  And how does a party that has very shallow roots, and is all about momentum, keep going for the now virtually guaranteed five years until the next election? The PTI could well fall apart. I really hope it doesn’t because if they stick around Pakistani politics could start to get really interesting.

Although most people got the number of seats the PTI won about right I think everyone was a little surprised about how well Khan did in the northwestern KPK (and indeed in Pathan areas general), and how badly he did in Punjab. We should have seem the writing on the wall really: a massive power vacuum in KPK and a rampant PML-N in the Punjab. So now the PTI has two options: they could become an ethnically Pathan party and probably enjoy quite a lengthy and comfortable existence. Or they could keep their eyes on the main prize in the Punjab.

If they do keep their eyes on the Punjab then things could really pan out for them long term. Not only are they second across vast swathes of the Punjab, particularly in urban areas (and the entire Punjab is going to be peri-urban pretty soon), but everyone else has been cleaned right out of the Punjab – especially the PPP who don’t even seem to have much of a base in the south any more. Long term the Punjab could well develop stable two party system with the PTI as one of the two parties.

So the choice seems like a no brainer, but it is one easier to make in theory than in practice. While they may be second placed and well poised the PTI might really struggle to survive five bleak years in the Punjab with no base of MNAs or MPAs, no access to the patronage network that comes with incumbency, and a totally dominant PML. And at the same time they are in power, and have MNAs and MPAs, in ethnically Pathan areas – that has to pull them Pathanwards.

I think there are a couple of clear signals Khan could send now if he’s serious about the Punjab and long-term power. One is to take the role as leader of the official opposition. That will put him right at the centre of national politics for five years. The other is in the choice of seat he takes. In Pakistan you can stand for more than one seat, but if you win more than one you have to choose one and give up the rest. Khan stood for four and won three. He can now take his seat in Peshawar, in Islamabad, or in Miānwāli (a town in the north west of the Punjab which is kind of on the cusp of the Pathan areas of the Punjab and the Punjabi areas). Peshawar is the easy option. I hope he takes Islamabad.


The results

May 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

Perhaps it wasn’t surprising but Nawaz Sharif won. What was surprising was that he won by an absolute landslide. He’s going to have an absolute majority nationally and a 2/3rds majority in the Punjab. Sindh is likely to have a PPP government and KPK will have some sort of PTI led coalition.

Results are still coming in, but at the moment it is:

  • PML-N 130
  • PTI 33
  • PPP 31
  • MQM 15
  • Islamic parties 8 (JUI 5, JI 3)
  • PML-F 4
  • PPMAP (a Baluchi party) 3
  • NPP (A PPP splinter) 2
  • AML (a PML splinter) 1
  • ANP 1
  • PML-Q 1
  • AJIP (the new party of Musharraf – who were supposed to be boycotting) 1
  • Independents 21 (expect to see some of these join the PML)

Here’s a very rough and ready map. I am grateful to as I stole their 2008 map and updated it. Its based on provisional results so some of these will change, and I’ve already spotted at least one that’s wrong:


It is just incredible how well the PML did in Punjab. They destroyed the PML-Q and the PPP only won one seat. The PML didn’t really break out of the Punjab but they didn’t need to – and they did randomly win a seat in Karachi.

The PTI didn’t break through in the urban Punjab but they did get a lot of second places and could be well set next time round. They also cleaned up in Pathan areas.

Also interesting to see mainstream parties taking advantage of new rules to field candidates and win seats in the Tribal Areas.

A bluffers’ guide to the Pakistani General Election

May 11, 2013 § 1 Comment

Pakistan goes to the polls today in one of the largest and most exciting elections in the world. Only the USA, Brazil, and Indonesia have more people voting on a single day – and Brazil might not be able to say that for long (Pakistani census data is notoriously poor and out of date; we do not know if Pakistan is more populous than Brazil – it might be – it does however have fewer registered voters for the moment). Pakistani elections are brilliant, and this one is even more brilliant than usual.

The writing about it over here has been a bit tame though. A lot of the articles in the mainstream western media have been more-or-less the same. And considering what a major event it is there hasn’t even been that much of it. There wasn’t even the traditional Tariq Ali piece in the Guardian bemoaning how the Pakistani people have a thirst for democracy but their leaders let them down (he wrote about Sri Lanka for the LRB instead – I can relate). This piece by Jason Burke is pretty good – you, at least, get the impression that the author stepped out of the air conditioning in the course of writing it.

Of course it doesn’t matter that this is slim fare because Pakistan itself has a truly phenomenal English language media. Indeed if I was being provocative and wanted to link bait I’d say something  Niall Fergusony like:

Pakistan has the freest media in the world

I say Niall Fergusony because it is not true, indeed its frankly a bit ridiculous, but it will bring the punters flocking in to be outraged, shocked, or just curious. Its also a bit Niall Fergusony in that it does contain the gem of an interesting idea, albeit one which is not explored or illuminated in any way. While Pakistan has its problems with censorship and with the murder of journalists, it does have an extraordinary diversity of different news outlets, representing different opinions and sections of society. Of course not everyone is represented evenly, or across all languages, but the Pakistani media is at least a diverse and decent read. The other thing Pakistan has – and here I am using up my one permitted ethnocentric cliché – is that Pakistan has a fairly healthy culture (at least within limits and more so within the English language media) of publicly discussing its faults. Compared to, for example, Sri Lanka the Pakistani press corps are far far more willing to go after a juicy story involving the powerful and their misdeeds.

In fact, if you take away one thing from this post it is that you don’t need to read this post.  Read Pakistani media, read Dawn. Particularly their various brilliant young bloggers and you will find out everything you need. Read this exceptional piece of work by Umair Javed. You don’t need me at all.

And yet strangely we westerners seem to feel the need to have other westerners explain Pakistan to us, as if Pakistanis didn’t speak English (they do – or at lest a few tens of millions of them do), didn’t have access to the higher levels of education necessary to make sense of it all for themselves (they do, they have some of the best universities in Asia) or found that it was all too close to home and sensitive to write about (it isn’t and they do write about it). And that’s how I come in: as a person who knows far far less about Pakistan than most Pakistanis, but is somehow invited to be on a radio panel discussion about it all on Monday. And I feel like a fraud.

And I feel even more like a fraud than normal this time round because the circumstances I alluded to previously mean that I haven’t been following the election with anything like the attention it deserves.

So I’m going to bluff, but by being tongue-in-cheek about it and presenting the piece as a “bluffer’s guide to the elections” you won’t be able to notice. In other words I’ve taken my shortcomings as a researcher and co-opted them as central to the conceit of the article. Booya!

How did we get here?

Actually in the end there is a simple answer to this: because time was up and constitutionally an election had to happen. But the journey wasn’t quite as simple as that.

Pakistan’s latest experiment in military dictatorship ended in 2007-8 with a quasi-popular quasi-judicial uprising known as the “Pakistan lawyers’ movement”. Following that Asif Ali Zardari, the leader of one of the major anti-dictatorship parties (the PPP) became President. However the courts in Pakistan, and many of the judges who had played a key role in ending the dictatorship, became increasingly associated with one of the other major anti-dictatorship parties (the PML-N). As the dictatorship, and the pro-dictatorship parties faded in to history, and the main political rivalry reset as PPP vs PML-N, this developed into open warfare between the courts and the Presidency.

(Of course some would argue that the courts were just doing their job and there was no politics to it, and that might have been true in part, indeed at times they may actually have been correct in law. But there did certainly seem to be a politically motivated element at times.)

It all started to revolve around something called the “Swiss letter”. Asif Ali Zardari is widely believed to be corrupt and to have been corrupt for some time. Around 2003 the Swiss Government started to investigate Zardari in conjunction with some dealings he had with a Swiss company in 1994. They didn’t get anywhere and wrapped up the case. In 2008 Zardari was elected President and so the Pakistani Government wrote to the Swiss Government saying that as President Zardari now enjoys immunity and so they would no longer be cooperating with the case. The Swiss replied that it was all somewhat academic as the case had been wrapped up.

Then in 2009 the Pakistani Government passed a law (well technically they repealed a law) which altered the extent to which immunity can be applied in cases of corruption. The courts and the PML-N felt that this now meant that the Swiss could proceed with the case (The Swiss continued to point out that it was all somewhat academic as the case had been wrapped up). The courts then tried various tactics to force the PPP Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to write a letter to the Swiss asking them to reopen the case.

The actual point, as the Swiss kept saying, was academic, but this argument quickly lost all connection to the point and became about principle (combating corruption on the one hand the supremacy of elected bodies on the other) and even more so about politics. It culminated in April of last year with Gilani being found guilty of contempt of court for not sending such a letter. He was sentenced to a notional minute in prison, to be served (since it was notional) by sitting in the courtroom. However that minute was crucial as ex-felons (even purely notional ones) can’t be MPs and non-MPs can’t be Prime Minister. And so Gilani was toppled.

However meanwhile outside the courthouse there had been a sudden surge in popularity for Imran Khan’s political party: the PTI. The PML-N suddenly realised that forcing early elections (which until then had been the ultimate plan) could well come back and bite them as Khan was at the peak of his popularity. And so at this moment of triumph they backed off and allowed a succession of caretaker Prime Ministers to finish out the term. A compromise letter was finally sent to the Swiss in November to which the Swiss replied, their voices slightly hoarse, that it was all somewhat academic as the case had been wrapped up.

Bluffing dos and don’ts – Do: Tell the almost certainly apocryphal but brilliant story about how, half way through Gilani’s notional minute’s detention in the courtroom, his lawyer stood up and asked if his client could be released early for good behaviour while in prison.

Don’t: Endlessly chirrup “Swiss letter”, “Swiss letter” (unless you want a job in the PML-N). The Swiss letter is frankly no longer that politically relevant.

Dramatis Personae

The army

Its totally wrong to start with the army because the role of the army in the electoral process is hugely overstated. But structurally this is where this fits, and I am all about structure.

Pakistan has had at least four successful military coups, has spent more time under military rule than not, and – as everyone keeps saying – today’s elections mark the first time in history a democratically elected government has seen out its term (although it is a bit of a fudge to mention the military in this context as many of the judicial coups of the early ’90s didn’t really involve the military much). The military hold an enormous amount of sway in Pakistani society and even without any of the rumours you hear about a shadowy “election unit” operating within the ISI (Pakistani military intelligence) it is clear that senior figures within the military hold  significant amounts of political power.

But I do feel the extent to which the army pull the strings in Pakistan is overstated. Firstly the Pakistani army is not a monolith. For simplicity’s sake I’m just going to describe two of the main schools of thought within the army but there are many. The first is the section of the army that thinks of itself in the mould of the Turkish army – the bastions of liberal secular moderation against the barbarism of the masses. Former dictator Pervez Musharraf was very much from this school. They support the secular parties – although they were originally willing to also support Imran Khan because he was a “moderniser”.

The second is the school of thought which grew up around dictator-but-one Zia ul-Haq and his CIA trained operatives in the 1980s. This is hard line anti-India and Islamist – although mostly not to the extent of wanting to scare away the American money that the Pakistani army love so much. They support the exact opposite set of political parties – although they too went through an Imran Khan phase because he was making the right noises (they saw him as being the best of all possible worlds – an Islamist who the west would continue to fund – in other words they saw him as a return to their halcyon days of the 1980s when they got paid to be Islamist).

When the army are in power they are a powerful force for remaining in power – as the durability of the various “kings parties” (political parties developed by military dictators to transition into quasi-civilian rule) show. But out of power the army pulls in different directions and largely against itself. They are a factor to be sure, but they are not the only factor.

The PML-N and Nawaz Sharif

Nawaz Sharif is a self made businessman from Lahore (he and his family are actually from Pakistani Kashmir but have developed a Lahori identity). He was Prime Minister twice in the 1990s and, crucially, his brother Shahbaz has been Chief Minister (effectively Governor) of the Punjab – Pakistan’s largest state – for the last five years.

If you ask the Sharif brothers’ many admirers they will tell you they are well liked because they get things done in a good old fashioned way. They get up early in the morning, eat plenty of ghee, and then they shout down telephones until Pakistan is fixed. If you ask the Sharif brothers’ many detractors they will say they are corrupt, and that they have no substance or political principle.

The Sharif brothers have a tight grip over the PML-N (which stands for Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz, and decends from a faction of the old PML that split when Nawaz split) but they are more than a one family party. They tend to be the party of “upstart” rich self-made men: industrialists, urbanites, but, above all, of Punjabis. Last time out the PML-N only won 6 of the 124 Parliamentary seats outside of the Punjab; however they won 61 of the 148 seats in the Punjab. Even within the Punjab they are concentrated in the more urban and industrial north. However as this is where most of the population, and seats, are concentrated you can absolutely win a general election this way.

They see themselves as centre right and very mild Islamist (they sell themselves as an even softer and more secular version of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party). But largely the difference between them and the other parties is that their supporters tend to be more urban and to work in manufacturing – rather than any deeper issue of principle.

Every political party in Pakistan has a symbol and a flag. The symbol is so they can be identified on the ballot paper by people with limited literacy, and the flag is for waving. The PML-N’s flag is kind of dull:

Their symbol however has caused no end of fun. Its the tiger:

Now some bright spark decided that this would make for a good campaigning brand. Nawaz Sharif was to be portrayed as the “tiger of the Punjab”. This works on many levels: its the king of the jungle, it has its roots in the subcontinent and Mughal connotations, its fierce and brave, and its a reference to the famous 1970s Punjabi politician Ghulam Mustafa Khar “the Lion of the Punjab”.

Anyway so far the tiger brand seems like a good idea. But they took it too far. Much much too far. For example they made his supporters dress in plush tigerskin onesies:

You thought/hoped I was joking didn’t you? It could be worse though. You could completely cover your entire car in plush tigerstripes:

At least that logically makes sense though. Its not like they covered their entire car in psychedelic crepé paper for no reason and then stuck a half arsed papier maché tiger on the roof:

Still at least they know what a tiger is. Prepare yourself for the worst thing ever:

Where to begin with this monstrosity? Probably with the fact that THAT IS NOT A TIGER THAT IS A LEOPARD. Also the left arm has been done differently and looks shit. Also the whole thing looks shit. What facial expression were they going for? Why is it humping the car?

There’s various montages going around of shit PML tigers. Because it is easy to mock. Easy and fun. Things got slightly more serious (while still remaining farcical) with “tigergate”. Because you knew at some point an actual tiger was going to rock up:

Sadly it seems this tiger was exposed to thirty degree heat for far too long and died. Petitions were launched in the high court on behalf of the tiger. Now it has been suggested that actually the tiger didn’t die and is doing fine. Either way poor tiger – it hasn’t had a fun few weeks. Probably better to just get fat Punjabi men to dress like furries.

Do say:  “It will be interesting to see how well the PML will fare outside their Punjabi heartland”. (It won’t be because they won’t and don’t need to, but it will make you sound like you know what you are talking about.)

Don’t say: “Incidentally the ‘Lion of the Punjab’ Khar’s ex-wife Tehmina Durrani wrote a brutal and engrossing if slightly mad book about Khar’s cruelty to her; Durrani is now married to Shahbaz Sharif and Khar is campaigning for him.” Then make some terrible joke about ligers.

The PTI and Imran Khan

Imran Khan was an absolutely magnificent cricketer. Then for a while he was a dilettante playboy (there’s a wonderful line in his 1991 appearance on Desert Island disks when Sue Lawley says to him, “drinking and womanising aside, you’re a very religious man aren’t you Imran?”). Then even less forgivably he moved to the UK and married a woman with a Jewish surname (that her dad was a fascist actually wasn’t a problem). Then much more forgivably he moved back to Pakistan, set up some really good charities and built and absolutely fantastic cancer hospital. Then he embarked upon a fifteen year long complete joke of a political career in which his party didn’t win a single seat.

Then the PTIsunami happened.

I’ve written about the PTIsunami before but I was probably a bit too dismissive. Nothing I wrote there was really wrong but I missed two fairly important factors. One was that once the bandwagon started to roll it attracted media coverage and Khan does really well in the media. What then became apparent is that there’s a new constituency in Pakistan, of mostly young (Pakistan has a very young population; over 30% of voters in this election are under 30) mostly urban, but in any instance uprooted and unaffiliated voters who are willing and able to vote for whomsoever they please – as opposed to feeling obliged by patronage, village, or family to support a certain candidate. They started to flock to Khan in droves.

The second thing that happened, and I don’t want to overstate this, is that the army started to push Khan. As I discussed before this is because he managed to convince both the secularists and the Islamists that he was one of them. They saw him as the President they had always dreamed of in that he on the one hand expressed the anti-western sentiments they felt, but still on the other was beloved of the west and so would continue to attract arms and investment.

Looking back I honestly think Khan could have won an election if it had taken place 18 months to a year ago. The problem with bandwagons however is that they run out of momentum and this started to happen. Its quite hard to keep a young, unrooted, unorganised and fickle support base going over 18 months without any significant party structure. Also people started to worry that there might not be too much substance behind him: the Islamists started to worry he might actually mean the Secularist stuff, the Secularists started to worry he might actually mean the Islamist stuff, those that joined him on the anti-corruption bandwagon started to worry about what it meant that the army and all these big landlords had suddenly joined, and the army and all the big landlords started to worry that if he won he might not need them and might actually get serious on corruption. Above all the herculean task of winning a first-past-the-post election from a base of zero seats started to hit home.

Khan did make some efforts to build a lasting party and appear like less of a one man band – most notably by bringing in ex PPP heavy hitter Shah Mehmood Qureshi and even occasionally hinting that if the PTI won Qureshi – not Khan – might be the Prime Minister (I still think this might happen if Khan has to go into a coalition he is not happy with as it will allow him to keep his hands clean and paladin-like). He also tried to define what the PTI is about, but here he is still struggling.

People project a lot of views onto Khan that he has never actually expressed. Because he is new, and exciting, and might win, everyone is hoping he shares their views, and this process of projection is made easier by him talking in semi meaningless terms: saying he believes in things like “modernisation” and “communitarianism” which could mean anything, and that he is against corruption (has any politician ever spoken out passionately in favour of corruption?).

Its pretty clear to me that the PTI are mildly Islamist and on the centre-right. Even if that’s not where they want to be I think that’s where their support base will push them. For one thing their support base has a lot of overlap with the PML-N – more than any other party – and so they will be pushed PML-Nwards. Additionally their support is largely based on the media and the media are mostly Islamist centre-right. And finally their support is largely urban and middle class (because those are the unrooted voters) and the urban middle classes are Islamist and centre right. However there are people who will insist until they are blue in the face that Khan’s talk about modernisation and the battle against poverty means that he is a centre-left secularist.

So it looks like Khan had missed his window but then as the election, and media election fever, started up the bandwagon did start rolling again and now all the talk is once again about Khan. And so now we really don’t know. Did he leave it too late? Is it  too much of a task?

We also don’t know what effect him falling off that stage had.

Khan may have thought that in this post Jennifer Lawrence era falling off the stage was now cute. For me it seems a bit more Bob Dole.

Dole, Khan, Lawrence: it could split either way

Mockery aside we should point out that this was a more serious fall than the Dole/Lawrence falls. He fell 4.5 meters off a forked lift truck that was transporting him up onto a raised stage and broke two vertebrae  He was in hospital for a bit but is fine now. Again it could split either way: massive outpouring of sympathy and admiration for his speech from the hospital bed – or that old adage “never elect a guy who falls off a stage”.

The PTI flag is very generic:

The PTI symbol is a cricket bat which has to be cheating because cricket is Pakistan’s national religion. Imagine if the Labour Party in Newcastle changed their symbol to Jackie Milburn (actually that is a really good idea):

Do say: “Khan coordinates his supporters via SMS”. Its true and it also makes his supporters sound like tamagotchis or Beliebers.

Don’t say: “Khan is batting higher than his average”. All cricket metaphors have already been used. Also don’t use cricket metaphors unless you know what you are doing. Khan only averaged 37.69 so batting higher than his average wouldn’t be that impressive. He more than made up for it with ball and armband but, while a solid and occasionally brilliant batsman, it was never his job to get the big runs. Besides he did the jobs that needed doing up and down the order – he didn’t have the long spell at no3/4 you need to pad your average.

The PPP and ???

The Pakistan People’s party are in many ways Pakistan’s most established and successful party. They were founded by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who, while a very long way from a saint, was a brilliant and charismatic leader who did what no Pakistani politician has really done before or since, which is to build a stable and lasting political party around an ideology: in this case centre-left secularism. Bhutto was judicially murdered in a military coup, thus ensuring his political immortality.

As a result the PPP has become the Bhutto party. They were next led by Bhutto’s daughter Benazir, after she was assassinated her husband Asif Ali Zardari took over. He is widely loathed to the extent that now Benazir’s son Bilawal has taken over.

The problem here is that Bilawal is 24 and to be Prime Minister of Pakistan you have to be 25. Furthermore he seems fairly uninterested in the electoral process and has left Pakistan for Dubai for the duration of the elections. If the PPP do win it is likely that the current Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf will continue, at least for a while.

Meanwhile the eminence grisé of the current PPP, and the man who has been largely heading up the electoral campaign, is former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani. He is continuing to do so despite the fact that his son has been kidnapped.

The PPP do actually have quite a bit of strength-in-depth, more so than most of the other parties. The most photogenic is the Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. Articles written by men usually contain some fatuous excuse to include a photo of her:

Although the PPP still go through the motions of being a secular left-wing party (and probably are a bit more secular and left wing than the others) these days they tend to be more about the fact that they have a different support base than the other parties. They are more Sindhi, and thus less Punjabi, and thus more pro-decentralisation. They are more Shia Muslim (although most of the top brass maintain at least a pretence of being Sunni) and thus less pro official Sunnidom. They are more rural and thus less interested in cities. And they are more old money and landed aristocracy and so are against “upstart” capitalists like the Sharifs. They also have a reputation for corruption. At some point the Bhuttos and the Sharifs seemed to be engaged in some wierd kleptocratic race.

One of the other key areas of strength for the PPP (apart from Sindh) is the southern Punjab. This is where Gilani is from and he commands a lot of clout here. They speak a slightly different form of Punjabi called Saraiki and the PPP are proposing the Punjab be split in two and a Saraiki province be established. This is a brilliant political maneuver. Firstly it is wildly popular in the southern Punjab and will bag them a ton of votes. Secondly its essentially a pledge to cut the PML-N’s power base in two. Unsurprisingly the PML-N are not thrilled about this, but its getting to the point where they cannot oppose it or they will be dead in the south.

The PPP seem fairly resigned to the fact that they will take a hit at this election. Indeed they are oddly relaxed about it. In part this is because they know that whatever the PTI do it is going to hurt the PML-N more than them, and indeed they might win a few seats by coming through the middle. In part it is because they don’t face much of a threat in their core areas. And in part it is because it seems fairly likely that there will be a coalition government and the PPP are very good at building coalitions.

I think the PPP’s flag is really cool but I can’t really explain what I like about it:

The PPP’s symbol is the arrow:

Do say: “The PPP might get away with it this time round but the prospects for a predominantly rural party in a rapidly urbanising nation are pretty bleak.” Don’t say it too much though because its my PhD thesis. Get your own

Don’t say: “Where’s Bilawal?”

Other parties

Some of these parties are actually quite important but none will contribute a Prime Minister.

The PML-Q (meaning Pakistan Muslim League – Quaid. Quaid being short for Quaid e Azam, this translates as “father of the nation” ie Jinnah) were built by the Army and Musharraf as a “kings party” in the early 2000s. They were and still are dominated by two Sharif-like brothers: rich industrialists known as the Chaudhurys of Gujrat. History has rather left the PML-Q behind and they have shrunk considerably and will shrink further. However there are at least 15 or 20 seats where PML-Q candidates are so enshrined by local patronage that they will win come what may. They will side with the PPP in a coalition because they hate the PML-N more.

There are a host of other parties with PPP or PML in their name.  This is because both the PPP and the PML have fractured at various points in their history.  Also to be thought of in the same terms are the National People’s Party. Many of these parties have strong family ties with particular seats and so will win one or two seats but no more.

Generally speaking if they have PPP in their name then they hate the PPP and will side with the PML and vice verca. Probably the most significant is the PML-F (the F stands for “functional” which is wonderfully passive aggressive). This is because they are the party of the Pir of Pagaro, a famous dynastic sufi spiritual leader and mediocre cricketer. They always win about five seats in northern Sindh where the following of the Pir is strongest. The Pir himself died last year, but as an immortal saint this is unlikely to have much impact on his electoral performance

The ANP (Awami National Party) are notionally a left wing secular party. More importantly they are a Pathan ethnocentric party. Indeed they largely seem left wing and secular merely because they are mostly competing with religious parties for Pathan votes. They have two areas of strength: the border areas with Afghanistan (what used to be called the NWFP or North West Frontier Province, and is now called KPK or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and large cities – notably Karachi – with a sizable migrant Pathan population. Although notionally the same party there is a fair bit of difference between the ANP in KPK which is largely controlled by the Wali Khan family; and the ANP in Karachi which is largely controlled by Shahi Sayed. The ANP would probably be happiest in a PPP coalition.

The MQM (which now officially stands for Muttahida Qaumi Movement – meaning united national movement – but used to stand for Muhajir Quami Movement meaning united Muhajir movement) claim to be a liberal secular centrist party but in reality are an ethnically based party of the Muhajirs – the name given to Urdu speaking refugees who came from India in 1947. They are exceptionally populists and ethnocentric and the term fascist gets used about them frequently – and with increasing justification. They are also, frankly, gangsters. They are controlled by Altaf Hussein, a London-based godfather who makes Scarface look like a milquetoast. The MQM are big in urban areas of Sindh. As such they are sworn enemies of the PPP locally but might actually work with them nationally –  they’ll work with anyone nationally.

The religious parties don’t actually get much of the vote. This isn’t to say that they aren’t important – more on that later – but they just don’t win seats. This time round there are four main religious parties. The JI (Jamaat Islami – Islamic Party) were the biggest, but are really down on their luck this time round with a lot of their natural support going to the PTI. They also have to deal with the fact that the coalition of tiny religious parties that usually support them have this time formed their own coalitions: the Shia MWM (Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen – united Muslim council) and the Sunni MDM (Mutahida Deeni Mohaz – united religious front). Finally, the JUI (Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam – party of the clerics of Islam) are more ethnically based in the Pathan community and so have more concentrated support in the north west and so might do a bit better.

Baluchi politics is a mess. None of the non-Baluchi political parties win more than one or two seats in Balochistan. In a way it doesn’t matter as there aren’t that many seats in Balochistan and whoever wins tends to do a deal with the leading coalition anyway. Generally speaking the parties that win believe in some sort of Baluchi nationalism – but not one strident enough to mean the army has to be sent in again.

Do say: “The MQM will be part of the ruling coalition.” There have been safer bets, but not many.

Don’t say: “Pakistan is in the grip of Islamic extremism! Oh my god! We’re all going to die! No no no no no no no no no no!” (unless you want a job working for Fox)

Here comes a map

This was the result last time.

  • PPP 124
  • PML-N 91
  • PML-Q 54
  • MQM 25
  • ANP 15
  • Islamic Parties 7
  • PML-F 5
  • Various other PPP splinter groups 2 (PPP-S 1 and NPP 1)
  • Balochistan National Party 1
  • Independents 18

This led to a PPP Prime Ministership and Presidency and to a PPP/PML-N/ANP/JUI coalition government. The PML-N later left this coalition while the MQM joined it only to leave some time later still.  The PML-Q have been informal supporters of the coalition for some time. The PML-N took office in the Punjab, the PPP in Sindh, the ANP in the NWFP (which they renamed KPK) and Balochistan remained a mess.

The provinces here are slightly separated to distinguish them. The top white bits are Pakistani Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan. They are – no kidding – administered as colonies from Islamabad and don’t get to vote. India occupies half of it anyway.

The top long thin one which starts with the green is KPK. It is largely Pashtun. This is likely to be a battle between the secular Pashtun ANP and the religious Pashtun JUI although the fact that both of them are pretty weak right now means other parties might try to muscle in: Imran Khan is ethnically Pashtun so you’d think the PTI could pick up some seats here.

The one on the right is the Punjab. The blue is the urban north which is going to be the main battleground between Khan’s PTI and Nawaz’s PML-N. As you go south it gets more rural and the PPP start to come into it. You also start to get the big rural seats which will go whichever way the local landlord picks (most of them are currently PML-Q).

The sliver of yellow on the left is the FATA or Federally Administered Tribal Areas. They are governed by the Frontier Crimes Regulations of 1848 under which MPs are not elected but simply selected by tribal elders. Do not get me started on this. EDIT: apparently this is no longer the case. About bloody time.

The massive thing to the left is Baluchistan. As I said above it is a bit mad, its basically Pakistan’s wild west. Its fascinating but you’d need someone more knowledgeable than me to explain it.

The bottom is Sindh. The rural areas vote PPP, the urban areas split on ethnic lines: Sindhis vote PPP, Pathans vote ANP, Muhajirs vote MQM. This is where the elections get very violent. Karachi in particular used to have a huge PPP stronghold in Layari town and huge ANP strongholds around Banaras colony and Landhi. Cue running gun battles between PPP, ANP and MQM gunmen and hundreds upon hundreds dead. I think its fair to say the MQM won, and now the whole city votes MQM. At risk of throwing my credibility away completely, the Vice guide to Karachi is actually very good.

Do say: *Khyber Pa*khtun*khwa while clearing your throat at the asterisk marks

Don’t say: “North West Frontier Province” The NWFP has gone to the big maproom in the sky with Madras and Bombay.

How elections are fought

I’m a lazy man, so here is how I described it in my paper:

“Mohammad Waseem’s (1994) study of the 1993 elections describes the Pakistani electoral landscape primarily in terms of “big men” or brokers who operate large banks of “hundreds or thousands” of votes. In the crudest examples they gain control over this number of voters through bribes, murders and intimidation. In more sophisticated strategies, they gain control as a quid-pro-quo for providing services of access-to, and mediation-with, the state: patronage. They trade these vote banks with the political parties in exchange for, in some instances, money and more generally local public goods which further enhance their reputation and access. There is an economy of patronage in which public goods are the primary currency…. party identification is partly, and increasingly, based on ideology and service delivery; but the main driver is patronage, which in turn is linked to development spending.”

That still largely holds true. However it is a fairly rural model and it is clear that while parties try to do the same thing in the cities it doesn’t work as well. The vote banks are more fragmented and the voters more independent minded. This is why Pakistani politicians hate working urban constituencies. They know they have to (for show if nothing else), but they find it difficult, expensive, and hard work.

Moreover there are some parties that don’t primarily operate this way: “modern parties” if you will, that primarily try to win elections by using campaigning and the media to get their message across. The religious parties, for all their many other flaws, have done this for some time, as have the MQM. They have now been joined by the PTI.

However most parties mainstream aren’t that good at it. They lack “street power”. And so this is where the religious parties come in. Again I’m going to plagarise myself here. This is from an unpublished field report:

“Mainstream political parties feel they cannot motivate people in the cities as they lack the networks to do so. This is because while the networks associated with a particular candidate will normally suffice in a rural area, they will not run as deep, or be extensive enough, in urban areas. Ideological organisations, on the other hand (such as religious or ethnic political parties) concentrate their resources in the cities as a) this is the most efficient way to reach the most people, b) this is where the media, their most effective tool, has the most impact, and c) this is where universities are based (the ban on political parties organising at Universities means that Universities have become areas of strength for religious and other non-party-political ideological groups).

“So the cities are areas of relative weakness for the mainstream political parties and areas of relative strength for ideological groups without a formal role in mainstream politics. And the mainstream parties seem to have limited interest in challenging this. They make very limited attempts to mobilise in the cities, and they leave the demonstrations, postering, corner meetings, and other manifestations of modern politics almost entirely to these latter groups. But at the same time these latter groups, including the religious political parties, are not able to project power at a national level – both because they lack the necessary patronage and high level networks to win a national election and also because, all things considered, their message isn’t actually that popular

“And so it appears that informal, local level, agreements are reached between members of the former groups and the latter. In a piece for Dawn Umair Javed describes this exchange as “electoral support for a blind eye”.  The religious parties lend the mainstream parties street power at election time and in return they get patronage. This manifests in the turning of a blind eye to illegality by the foot soldiers of the religious parties, and arguably by the religious parties themselves, and also arguably in the disproportionate influence religious parties have over policy.

“These deals seem to be done on a constituency-by-constituency or district-by-district level. So there are constituencies where the JI support the PPP and the JuD the PML-N, and there are constituencies where the reverse is true. Religious parties fielding candidates themselves does not seem to prejudice these arrangements, as even where they stand it seems they rarely make an attempt to win.”

Do say: Talk about the transgender candidates. Its really interesting.

Don’t say: Any of this stuff above. People’s eyes will glaze over.

Counting the vote

Polls are closing roundabout now and we’ll start to get media reports of who has won what in dribs and drabs. Formal results will be announced within 14 days. These will take the form of first-past-the-post constituency results to both the National Assembly and to the Provincial Assemblies of the four provinces. Only Muslims can vote but there is a separate election for non-Muslims to elect 10 minority seats. Its very hard to find anything out about this election but I understand it is done by dividing Pakistan up into 10 first-past-the-post electorates. Ahmedi Muslims are counted as non Muslims which they are very angry about.

EDIT: this has now changed and minorities can now vote and stand for election in the general seats. In addition minorities still have ten reserved seats which now work the same way as female reserved seats. You still have to declare your religion to vote though which many Ahmedi Muslims refuse to do because of the way Muslim is defined.

In the meantime candidates who have won more than one seat (this happens quite often) have 60 days to decide which seat they would like to keep and by-elections are then held in the ones they give up.

Within three days of the official result independent candidates have to either join a political party or pledge to remain independent. You see this happen quite a lot in seats dominated by feudal landlords. They will put up an independent candidate who will win and then join whichever party forms the Government.

About six days after official results are declared reserve seats for 60 women are allocated among the political parties in direct proportion to the number of seats the parties have already won.

Parties in Parliament then go about trying to agree on a Prime Minister and, almost as importantly, parties in the Provincial assemblies then go about trying to agree on a new Chief Minister for each province.

Finally the President of Pakistan will be elected in September by an electoral collage made up of Parliament, the Provincial assemblies, and the Senate (the Senate is indirectly elected by the Provincial assemblies – by Single Transferable vote eccentrically enough – half being elected every three years. We’re not due until 2015 so it will be this current Senate that helps pick the President).

Does winning the Presidency matter? Its hard to say. It used to be a symbolic role, then it became quite powerful, now it is fading and becoming more symbolic again – but it does in a large part depend on the personalities involved.

Do say: “The disenfranchisement of the Ahmedi community is a disgrace”.

Don’t say: “As is the disenfranchisement of the FATA, the Northern Areas, and minorities in general”. Its true but people don’t want to hear it. In fact do say it. It is true.

Who will win?

My guess? PML-N led minority coalition. PTI will get about 40 seats. But this is a much better prediction.

Results are coming in here.

Imran Khan will not be the next Prime Minister of Pakistan (there, I’ve said it)

November 15, 2011 § 6 Comments



Imran Khan
Politics 101: NEVER DO THAT WITH YOUR ARM. Pakistani Politics 101: try to avoid making the Quaid-e-Azam look like the Psammead

It’s very easy to have a soft spot for Imran Khan; particularly if you’re British and know nothing about the subject. He invented reverse swing. He batted so stoically. He looked good in whites. He saved us the embarrassment of winning a world cup with Derek Pringle in the squad (and didn’t even gloat about it afterwards). He married the daughter of Britain’s favourite fascist*. He looks good in a suit. And apparently he’s some sort of liberal or something? Probably.

In many ways Khan is indicative of the overly simplistic attitude the west has to the politics of places they don’t like to visit. Find a solution (and only one) to all the nation’s problems in the form of a man who looks good in a suit, speaks good English, was educated in the west (the more Oxbridge, and therefore the posher and more out of touch, the better) and uses some correct buzzwords; then invest all your hope and energy in them. History is littered with vile little tin pot dictators who seemed very personable at mixers in Claridges. History has an even greater supply of complete non entities the public of country x didn’t even look at twice but who the west championed for years as the next big thing. Mustafa Barghouti’s 156,227 votes in the 2005 Palestinian Presidential election came at a price of something like $20 per vote of western wishful thinking.

Khan may be symptomatic of a general trend but there is not yet any evidence that he has any dictatorial tendencies. However, in the form of 15 years of electoral humiliation, there is every evidence that he was – until recently – an irrelevance and a joke. Yet as of last Wednesday (ish) suddenly the whole world is ringing with the news of the “incredible surge in PTI popularity“. But is it based upon anything other than western liberal wishful thinking and the self-affirming, self-fulfilling positive feedback cycle of all journalistic hype, “speculation mounts that” style stories?

To answer that I’d suggest we look at the opinion polls – except that there haven’t been any since July. Failing that I suggest that we look at recent election results – except that there haven’t been any for ages. Failing that I suggest that we look for any empirical evidence whatsoever to substantiate the claim – there was a rally in Lahore to which 70,000 attended which is quite impressive. Except that at a push I think I could get 70,000 to a rally in Lahore – Lahore has a population of nine million and there isn’t much to do in the evenings.

Ok, it’s not entirely media speculation. The substantive points are that there have been a number of high profile defections to the PTI within a couple of days of each other. There are a number of different types of defections going on here:

Firstly some impressive technocrats have joined; important but without political significance, albeit their defections were timed to perfection.

Secondly a lot of the PML-Q, PML-F etc… are lining up to join the PTI; this is more important in that it could give the PTI something it sorely lacks: numbers in Parliament. However it’s also not that surprising, the PML-Q are a disparate collection of vested interest groups – a King’s party whose King has died, they were always going to fragment and wash up on the shores of the party in whose direction the wind was blowing.

Thirdly, some genuinely heavy hitters from the PPP have joined the PTI. I’m not going to sniff at that, except to say that perhaps embittered former heavy hitters would be a better term. Even so it is impressive except in that in Pakistan this kind of thing happens all the time. A long long time ago Aftab Ahmad Sherpao wasn’t a joke.

Finally, and in conjunction presumably with the wooing of the PML-Q, we hear that several prominent landlords – including the Legharies of DG Khan – are thinking of joining. Given the political power of the Legharies that really isn’t to be sniffed at.

So what we actually have is a number of vested interest groups, feudal landlords and usual suspects flocking to a banner: partly – I imagine – because their rivals support Khan’s rivals and partly because they’ve made a self-fulfilling judgement that Khan and the PTI are going somewhere. What has actually changed is that Khan is willing to accept these people. Khan was once Mr Clean and Mr Pure, not to be sullied by the feudalism and patronage game the others all play. The real story of the last few days is that Khan has shown himself to be just another Pakistani politician.

I think that’s a mistake – he could bite hard into the main parties but he’s surrendered the one thing that made him unique to enter a game he cannot possibly win. He might get a few PML-Q dropouts and the odd landlord whose burnt so many bridges with both the PPP and the PML that they have nowhere else to go, but there is no way he can win a patronage game against the big two – they just have access to far more graft. I’m not alone.

But lets suppose he does win. When I was younger and more pretentious I used to tell people my favourite film was Novecento when it was actually Con Air. Novecento is however still a cracking film. Because I am still quite pretentious I’m now going to reinterpret it as a biopic of Imran Khan and Javed Miandad. Bear with me, I realise I’m pitching to a very narrow venn here.

Robert de Niro is Imran Khan: rich, handsome, he is given the world on a plate but he is determined to do good. Gérard Depardieu is Javed Miandad: poor and spectacularly grumpy but very talented he just wants to get his job done. They grow up together, sometimes they are best friends, sometimes they are worst enemies, always there is tension. Both are swept up in the arc of history,  it is Italy in the 1930s, one cannot get anything done without joining the fascists. A nutter tries to draw attention to the injustice of society by chopping off his own ear (that would be Afridi).

We are now just at the beginning of act 2. The evil Donald Sutherland (Mazhar Majeed?) and his grotesque lover (i’m going to say Ijaz Butt) have just raped and murdered a poor innocent child (Mohammed Amir) and headbutted a cat to death (err… Mohammed Asif?). Now Khan/de Niro must make a choice – become just another feudal landlord, join in with the prevailing mood of the time, join the fascists and hope in so doing to be able to protect the people living on his land, or take to the hills with Depardieu in the knowledge that he will not see power for many a year.

de Niro does what Khan seems about to do and becomes just another feudal landlord. But inevitably rather than changing the system, the system changes him and he becomes just another fascist. When the war ends Depardieu/Miandad puts him on trial; he insists he has done nothing wrong; on one level this is not disputed, but the villagers point out to him that if you know that the system is going to change you, if you know the system is going to make you one of them, then you shouldn’t participate in the system. The film ends with Depardieu and de Niro doing what Khan and Miandad will inevitably do: living out their dotage arguing and tussling and insisting they were right about things they fought about 60 years ago, loving every minute of being angry with each other.

I appreciate those last few paragraphs were like jazz – I enjoyed them more than you did. – but the main point is valid. Even if Khan wins by becoming just another Pakistani politician he won’t change anything. He can’t if that is how he wins.  Pakistan’s fundamental problems: patronage, graft, feudalism, the stratification of society, bonded labour, the total lack of social mobility, the deliberate failure to educate the poor, and the medieval attitudes to women that come from medieval feudal overlords, cannot be solved by co-opting and buying up those same overlords, those same feudals, and creating more of those same patronage networks.

Disclaimer: my Pakistani politics may be a bit rusty – I am just easing back into it. If I’ve got anything wrong I would really genuinely like to hear about it.

*James Goldsmith: yes he humiliated David Mellor, the world’s greasiest lemon, but he was a fascist and he created this prick.

The most dangerous place in the world

October 29, 2010 § 1 Comment

Something a little different for this blog today, and I won’t make a habit of it, but I’m going to tell you about the seminar I went to last night. This is because it was about the politics of probably the most important place in the world right now. A subject which, despite the fact that it is probably the most important place in the world right now, hardly ever gets discussed. This is because people get so hung up on the geo-political, strategic, and military goings on in the area (usually in articles with stupid melodramatic headlines like “the most dangerous place in the world”) that they ignore the political aspects which underlie the whole problem.

I’m talking, for the second time this week, about Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The talk was by Professor Safraz Khan of the University of Peshawar, and I couldn’t agree more strongly with his thesis.

These areas were formed as the result of Britain’s historical dithering over Afghanistan. Never having been sure whether to advance and secure Afghanistan (the forward policy) or to retreat and leave the whole area as a buffer (the backwards, or closed border, policy), Britain did both at various times, dithered, were beaten in three wars, suffered the greatest military defeat ever to befall an army:

Remains of an army

Elizabeth Butler's famous painting of all that was left of the 15,000 soldiers, 30,000 camp followers and 50,000 horses and livestock that were sent to Kabul in 1842. That horse subsequently died of its wounds; the soldier survived his.

and finally came up with the FATA. Under these rules, the FATA – seven districts and six frontier regions – are not part of Afghanistan, but nor are they really part of Pakistan. Instead they are governed by the Frontier Crimes Regulation of 1901. Under this arrangement the FATA is allowed to self govern under traditional arrangements, but there are a number of political agents (originally appointed by the British and, from 1947, the Pakistanis) who oversee arrangements and can collectively punish villages that step out of line.

And that is how it has been governed ever since. Since the restoration of the 1973 constitution the FATA organises for itself the election of 17 MNAs and 8 senators to the Federal Parliament (which is kind of silly really as the Federal Parliament can legislate for everywhere in Pakistan except the FATA).

Clearly there are huge problems in terms of fairness and human rights: traditional governance has meant a ruling Malik answerable only to the political agent, who is not answerable to anyone. It has meant local jirgas acting as the only legal force in the region – refusing to allow women to serve on the jury, or even to make complaints, and handing out draconian sentences without due process.  It has also meant that, as the Maliks control elections they can, and often do, deny women the vote.

It is also a huge problem in terms of security. The FATA is already effectively outwith the rule of law and the perfect place for militancy to fester. Add in geopolitical factors: the USA using the area to create an anti-soviet Mujahadeen (Prof Khan told us of his experiences in Peshawar in the ’80s when Thatcher came to visit and urged them to “wage jihad”, and Regan told them “the mujahadeen are the George Washingtons of Afghanistan), Saudi Arabia pouring millions into ensuring Salafi Islam drives out all other forms, and the Pakistani Army supporting the militias in the hope of harnessing them against India, and you have a recipe for what happens next. Small wonder therefore, that so many of the Maliks have now either been eliminated and replaced by the Taliban or have come to an agreement with them.

It is also a major problem for governance. The special status of the FATA does not give the people more autonomy. It effectively reduces the area to the status of a colony – with no say at all over their own rule.

Prof. Khan has a plan:

  1. Extend Pakistani law to cover the tribal areas. This would give the residents protection in terms of human rights, and give the Pakistani government the power to enforce rights like the right to due process, and female suffrage, which other Pakistanis take for granted. It would also allow political parties to operate in the tribal areas, allowing people to organise along ideological lines using arguments instead of guns, and around more ideologies than the Taliban one.
  2. Form self-governing local councils, elected by universal suffrage, allowing the people, rather than the Maliks and the Taliban, to rule the region
  3. Form a combined council for the FATA who can decide whether to become a full province in their own right or to become a formal part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (the former North West Frontier Province).

Virtually every problem of the FATA can be traced back to its governance. Solve the governance problem and you will solve most of the other issues that ail the region. Moreover we know from Pakistan Survey that parts 2 and 3 of this plan enjoy extraordinarily high levels of support and part 1 enjoys 58% support (my thought would be that most of the opponents  are opposed to the extension of Pakistani law over which they had no say – reform of the governance might allay some of these fears).

Reform of the FATA was promised by President Zardari on the 14th of August 2008. However, these plans appear to have been withdrawn. There are two main opponents to the plan. The most powerful is the army; the army are a major power in Pakistan and they enjoy the special status of FATA, as they are the most powerful force in the region and they don’t want to share. The army also have, on occasion, pursued their own independent strategic policy – which tends be more conciliatory towards militant groups, who could prove useful in Kashmir, than the civilian policy.

The other opposition to the plan comes from those, the US included, who are worried that bringing democracy to the tribal areas would formalise Talibani control as the Taliban would win the elections. Prof Khan claims this argument does a disservice to the progressive nature of the local public – particularly if women are allowed to vote. He points to the result in Swat in 2008 where, just 6 months after the Taliban had been forced out of the area, the people of Swat elected to their 8 provincial seats: 7 members of the very secular, very anti-Taliban ANP and 1 member of the mainstream centre-left PPP. The religious MMA (affectionately known locally as the Military Mullah Alliance) were utterly panned.

I tend to agree with Prof Khan.


October 21, 2010 § 1 Comment

This post is mostly to draw your attention to a fantastic new resource I’ve found. Pakistan survey is the first attempt I am aware of to find out what people are actually thinking inside the Federally Administered Tribal Areas – and it is very comprehensive. It has been commissioned by an American think tank: the New America Foundation; and much of the groundwork was done by a Pakistani NGO.

The FATA are the unincorporated areas of Pakistan along the Afghan border:


As for what they are thinking: it will come as no surprise that support for US drone strikes is virtually non existent, support for the Taliban is low – but higher the more drone strikes there have been in the area (it is of course debatable which way causality can be established on that one) and support for external fighters (Al Quaeda in popular parlance) is very low – but again higher where there have been many drone strikes. Bread and butter concerns such as the lack of jobs and schools are seen as the main concerns and trump religious or geopolitical concerns.

What is particularly interesting to me is the question of governance. The FATA has always been federally administered, by the centre, in a hands-off way via political agents. There are some MNAs elected from the FATA, but these elections tend to have been captured by local elites – and are not held in some areas for security reasons. The FATA has no real say in its own governance and many have attributed the rise of the Taliban to this – and suggested that governance should be normalised and autonomy increased.

Firstly, the public perception in the more peaceful areas is that the political agents of the federal government are only as powerful as the local leaders (the Maliks and the Muftis). However, in the more violent areas neither group are seen as being as powerful as the Pakistani Army – who are felt to be the real power. Interestingly, the Army are not that unpopular.

There is less support for normalising governance in the sense of making FATA more integrated with Pakistan – but an extraordinary level of support for local democracy and an accountable autonomous governance structure: either an independent Pashtun state or – even more popular – an independent elected autonomous council.

However, perhaps the most valuable thing about this research is that it is being done at all. For nearly a decade the FATA has obsessed the international media. Yet in all the debate over What Is To Be Done, the voice that has been missing is the voice of the FATA residents. It comes as no surprise to me that they want what everyone else wants: investment and a degree of self government, but I am delighted that somebody has finally bothered to ask them.

A further comment on Pakistani politics

October 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

I hope the last post was taken in the spirit it was intended. I do not mean to suggest that Pakistan is not a functioning democracy, or that political parties in Pakistan are just ideal-less empty vessels. Neither of these things are the case, the situation is far more complicated than that, and there are some truly extraordinary Pakistani politicians.

However, it is important to understand the challenges under which Pakistani politics operates. Take the election commission: they are tasked with running elections across 800,000 square miles – parts of which are active warzones – and amongst nearly a  quarter of a billion people.  There are some extraordinary people involved. There are also some right dullards. Here, because I think it would be informative, is a conversation I had with an election commissioner in Pakistan recently. For their sake I won’t say where or when, and I certainly don’t mean to imply all election commissioners are like this. And no, we weren’t this blunt with each other, but my notes are not verbatim and the following is the gist of what was said.

Me: do you supervise elections?

Election Commsioner: I’m not sure: sometimes we do, sometimes the judiciary do it.

Me: Will you supervise the next set?

EC: I don’t know.

Me: Would you say the last set of elections were free and fair?

EC: That’s not really our role so I wouldn’t know. There were some monitoring teams who we tried to help as I am helping you.

Me: Were there any problems with the last set of elections?

EC: There might have been, but if they were they got sorted out without anyone bothering us

Me: Do you think brokers or middlemen play a powerful role in elections?

EC: That’s not really our role so I wouldn’t know. The police look into that sort of thing

Me: What was the turnout of the last election?

EC: That’s not really our role so we don’t keep any record of turnout.

Me: What were the results of the last election?

EC: That’s not really our role so we don’t keep any record of the result.

Me: What were the rules under which the election was fought?

EC: The rules change all the time so we don’t keep any record of them.

Me: What are the constituency boundaries around here?

EC: We don’t keep any record of that, we don’t need them for what we do?

Me: What do you do?

EC avoids question, offers me coffee. Finally suggests that all these things may be recorded and decided somewhere else and then they send out instructions which this office just follows.

Me: And how do you do that without maps, without voting list, without rules without any idea of turnout or expected results?

EC: Well it’s always the same as last-time so we just take the maps and lists and things from last-time and update them as we need.

Me: And where are the maps and lists and things from last time?

EC: I don’t know, you might be able to buy them in the Bazaar.

At this point my notes descend into a scribble which I think says “bloody useless git”.

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